April 29, 2020
I am a big-time sports fan! Missing out on the NCAA College basketball championships, even the NBA playoffs, (now that my team sucks) is not so bad. But Baseball, come on! Baseball is not just a National Pastime, it is a normal activity for boys, girls, men and women and has been for more than a century. In the movie “Field of Dreams”, James Earl Jone’s character says,” The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled on like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard and rebuilt again……it reminds us of what once was good, and it could be again.” Good words for these times! You do not need to be a sports fan to watch and get good information from “Field of Dreams.” I think it has some of the most powerful spiritual messages of any film ever made. One of its many themes is about life returning to normal, suggesting that normal is a pleasant experience. Identifying normal and pleasant in recovery is a worthwhile journey. This prompts the question, what is normal, is it pleasant and how do we get there?
In our drinking careers most of us go through the fun stage of the disease. That seems normal. The next stage is fun plus problems, where we often seem to reach for normal with lessening success. It confounds us. Ultimately the despair of nothing but problems is where life leads us. We have no clue what normal is, was or could be. So again, what is normal and how do we get there? And, does baseball have anything to do with it?
The first major gift I allowed myself after I got sober was organizing a group to buy season tickets for the San Francisco Giants. Organizing is normal for me and what a way to make something affordable for people who share the same passion for baseball that I do. Spending money on things other than alcohol and drugs, including my bills, was not normal. So, this investment marked progress.
I remember going to my first game sober. I cried tears of joy when I got to the seats. I did not think much about the seat’s location until James Earl Jones’ monologue in the movie talked about finding a seat along the baselines. “Reserved seats on the base line”, in my case, first base to be exact, was the location where my grandfather took me to games in Chicago starting when I was 8 years old. I saw my first game at Wrigley Field. Memories flooded me at my first game sober, which was at Candlestick Park. I cried tears of joy again when the National Anthem was sung and the players took the field. I managed to keep my composure until the 7th inning stretch brought out the familiar rendition of “Take me out to the Ballgame,” where the tears came again. To my surprise, I discovered that it felt normal to be at the game with sober buddies. Before recovery it would have been abnormal not to have a beer in my hand. Being at the game sober was abnormal behavior. If you are not into sports, the same is true about enjoying any experiences without alcohol, things like going to a play, taking a walk on the beach, reading a book, etc. Feeling joy, excitement, calm, and other feelings sober is not to be minimized
Around the same time we became season ticket holders, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Stephanie Brown, a person in recovery, who is the Director of the Addictions Institute in Menlo Park, CA. During her talk she offered a comment that has stuck with me over the years, which is, “To recover, we have to become abnormal because drinking and using and behavior associated with it was normal for us.” Think about that in terms of how long it took for us to get into recovery from the moment we knew we were in trouble with alcohol and drugs. We kept up normal, albeit unhealthy, patterns after the realization of our problem. For me it was 10 years.
For those of us who come from shame-infused backgrounds, coming to recovery can be tougher, as was my experience. In my case, the thought of being abnormal created an image leading to feelings of being less than, if not downright soiled. It was challenging to discover those feelings were familiar to me, therefore, normal. I had a very bad experience growing up, which impacted my ability to surrender. Studies today show that trauma and PTSD are highly prevalent in recovering people. They also show that one need not have bad childhood experiences to develop shame-based thinking. It can come from trauma of any kind. It can happen when we truly awaken to the havoc we wreaked while drinking and using. Page 133 in the AA Big Book has specific information about using the services of doctors and psychiatrists. Today, we have therapists who specialize in healing from trauma and PTSD as it relates to alcoholism. I have been in therapy for years and I promise you that it can help people become abnormal, which is to say, healthy.
Blocking feelings associated with our behaviors and actions when we were drinking and using was normal because the substance managed our pain. The abnormal action of taking the Steps builds a bridge to allow our conscience to kick in. Without taking them, our chances of drinking increase to the point we can eventually become “constitutionally incapable of being honest with ourselves.”
I learned from experience that Dr. Brown’s statement about becoming abnormal as the journey in recovery is accurate. Our not drinking leads to new thinking, which is abnormal. The Steps make possible the release from the prison of the disease and with that new freedom comes an abnormal process of adjusting to our new reality. Our new thinking makes being abnormal a positive! For those of us who got/get stuck in the quagmire of feeling shame, embracing this concept is very freeing. It requires continuous work because the critical voice is patient and keeps trying to remind us that abnormal means we are flawed. Bob Earll called this voice, “The vulture on the bedpost.” So, what is a person to do?
This is April, the fourth month. What about revisiting the Steps including a full-on 4th Step? Let’s see. What does my busy schedule look like? Well, I’ll be darned. I have plenty of time now, don’t I. It is a good time to concentrate my efforts. To begin with, I must identify what my powerlessness(s) du jour is and proceed. Now, it’s time to be abnormal.
The pandemic is offering many examples of powerlessness in all our lives. Most of us are not on whatever daily schedule/routine we are accustomed to which adds to powerlessness. I am finding powerlessness in restrictions placed on us, even though they are in our best interests. I am finding powerlessness in missing face to face gatherings in meetings, with my sponsor, sponsees and social situations. I am finding powerlessness because I do not have work now. I am powerless over the fact the virus is robbing me of precious time, which feels sad because I am in the last third of my life. The pandemic is preventing from me filling my days the way I want them filled! I am angry at being powerless over misinformation being spread by our national government. It saddens me that spewing misinformation is enabling serious consequences to our fellows. It’s like growing up in a dysfunctional family all over again.
Independently, any one of these situations of powerlessness could make life feel unmanageable. Collectively, they are really stretching our recovery comfort zones. I do feel fortunate to be able to identify the feelings and put words to them. This is step 0. The step before the taking the Steps. The action of Step 0 before taking Step One is abnormal for sure. Many of you have read the book by Chuck C. entitled, “A New Pair of Glasses.” Of the many pearls of wisdom in his writing is how he views the recovery process at work. In simple terms he frames it to be, “We uncover, discover, then discard.”
With the pandemic creating space, I have time to pause and thoroughly assess if I have more examples of powerlessness to put into step 0. What and where is my powerlessness? How does it make my life unmanageable? Fellow traveler and author Herb Kaighan says, “We don’t know what we don’t know until we know.” Paying close attention to powerlessness helps me avoid the recovery booby trap of avoidance. With more time on my hands, I don’t want to get lazy about my recovery, which can happen when I’m not paying attention. When I pay attention to my feelings, it helps me recognize I’m doing my part to remain abnormal!
Recovery grows and shifts and changes us in ways that often others see before we do. Then the day comes when we experience awareness that we are reversing the disease process. On arrival in recovery, we thought our problems too monumental, therefore unsolvable. That proved untrue, so we moved to the fresh air of hope. We could breathe. Then some fun started happening and finally along with the good stuff, we experienced the ability to “match calamity with serenity.” As James Earl Jones says, “What once was good, could be good again.” Long before W. P. Kinsella wrote the book, “Shoeless Joe” that the movie, “Field of Dreams” is based on, Bill W. and Dr. Bob’s connection built a field of dreams for all of us. They built it and we came.
Dr. Brown’s new philosophy is that AA and other 12 Step programs are the new normal way of life because the process has proven effective with the test of time. I like that a lot. What a great thing to be part of. Today, April 25, the Giants were to play the Washington Nationals at ATT Park in San Francisco. Every baseball fan and even those who are not fans could have enjoyed a day at the park. It was to be a Saturday in the sun, a great day to enjoy the ballpark, with peanuts, popcorn, Cracker Jacks and sobriety. I probably would have been at this game. Weekend games are normal for me to attend. Instead, I spent the day being abnormal with gratitude for the opportunity to do so.
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